Cruise ships return to British Columbia, with tourist dollars and environmental concerns in tow

Simone Kearney-Rodriguez is eager to put some cash in the ledger this weekend when the first crowd of cruise ship passengers enters the port of Victoria, British Columbia, on Saturday, after the cancellation of the last two cruise seasons due to COVID-19.

The Beaver gift shop owner says her family business almost sank without the support of hundreds of thousands of cruise ship tourists who kept it afloat for more than 30 years.

“We’re still alive, but it took everything I had to keep going,” she told CBC. On the island.

She’s not alone: ​​According to the Tourism Industry Association of BC, cruise ships contribute an estimated $2.7 billion a year to the provincial economy, supporting tourism-focused businesses in coastal cities like Victoria, Vancouver and Prince Rupert.

“We’re a tourist town,” Bruce Williams, CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, said during an interview in the James Bay neighborhood, where moored tourists stock up on gifts and candy.

“These businesses have always depended on tourism and some of them have lost 80 or 90% of their income.”

More than 300 ships are expected to call at BC ports by November, attracting more than one million customers. But with their tourist dollars, there are some concerns, including the possible arrival of new COVID cases and the environmental impact of giant ships floating through delicate coastal ecosystems.

COVID Monitoring

The first ship to arrive on the coast of British Columbia is the Koningsdam, part of the Holland America line.

The ship is on a seven-day cruise from San Diego, Calif., to Vancouver, and will arrive in Port Victoria on Saturday.

Under federal regulations, cruise ship passengers arriving in Canada must be fully vaccinated and tested for COVID-19 prior to boarding at departure points, and are monitored prior to arrival in Canada.

Dr Horacio Bach, of the University of British Columbia’s medical school, says cruise lines appear to have learned the lessons from the early days of the pandemic, when COVID-19 outbreaks forced them to stay at sea for weeks, and now have robust testing regimes and medical facilities on board to prevent problems.

dirty landfill

Recent research by environmental organizations warns that industry is treating the province’s sensitive coastline as a dumping ground for polluted sewage, and that what is good news for business is bad news for the environment.

“British Columbia is the toilet bowl for the cruise industry,” says Anna Barford, a shipping activist with an environmental advocacy group

Postcards in a souvenir shop on Robson Street in downtown Vancouver, photographed in June 2020. Souvenir shops in coastal cities like Vancouver, Victoria and Prince Rupert eagerly await the arrival of cruise ships for the first times in two years. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Barford says cruising creates more greenhouse gas emissions than air travel, and lax Canadian regulations mean billions of gallons of sewage, gray water and washwater potentially are likely dumped into British Columbia coastal waters every year.

According to a report published last July, found that the environmental benefits of canceled cruises were “astonishing”. It showed that around 220 million liters of sewage, 1.8 billion liters of gray water and 31 billion liters of wash water – enough to fill more than 13,000 Olympic swimming pools – were held to away from the Salish and Great Bear seas.

In this January 2014 photo, an endangered female orca jumps out of the water in Puget Sound, west of Seattle, as seen from a federal research vessel that was tracking whales. Environmental groups are warning that unregulated dumping from cruise ships is harming B.C.’s delicate ocean ecosystems. (Elaine Thompson/The Canadian Press)

Greywater comes from draining sinks, kitchens and dishwashers. The wash water is generated by cruise ship scrubbers which are installed on the ship’s exhaust system and suck in sea water to filter sulfur dioxide pollutants out of marine fuel.

In a World Wildlife Fund March Report during ship sinking in Canada, scrubber washwaters, which are up to 100,000 times more acidic than seawater, accounted for 97% of the waste generated nationally.

This report found that cruise ships were the biggest generator of wastewater, even though they only accounted for 2% of the 5,546 ships surveyed in Canadian waters in 2019.

US vs. Canadian regulations

Barford says the laws governing cruise ships on the British Columbia coast pale in comparison to those in California — where ships cannot use scrubbers and must burn cleaner fuels — and the Alaska, where onboard engineers take water samples, observe environmental practices and report problems.

This, says Barford, is what needs to happen in Canada as well.

On April 4, Transport Canada, which regulates cruise ships, announced stricter measures to evacuate gray and black water (wastewater from bathrooms and toilets). But those regulations, Barford says, are only voluntary.

Residents of James Bay in Victoria have raised concerns about pollution and congestion that come with the cruise season. (Greater Victoria Port Authority)

“The Government of Canada plans to make these changes permanent through regulations and appreciates the cruise ship industry’s willingness to continue these measures in the interim,” Transport Canada said in a statement.

Without banning scrubbers, insisting on cleaner fuel and putting observers on board ships, BC’s coast will continue to bear the brunt of ‘the prioritization of profit over ocean health and communities’ , Barford said.

High emissions

The industry also creates significant carbon emissions.

According to the Germany-based Union for Nature and Biodiversity Conservation, a single cruise ship that can accommodate 4,000 passengers is capable of emitting as much carbon dioxide as 85,000 cars.

It’s a challenge to Victoria’s own climate goals. At the end of 2019, the last full cruise season in British Columbia, the Greater Victoria Harbor Authority reported that cruise ships and the infrastructure that supports them were emitting the equivalent of 12,136 tonnes of carbon dioxide, or approximately three per cent of the total emissions generated in all of regional Victoria. .

Tighter rules

On March 1, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority announced that vessels docked or at anchor could no longer discharge scrubber washwater. In this advert, the authority said it would phase in a possible outright ban on scrubber systems.

As of Friday afternoon, Transport Canada had not responded to CBC when asked if it was considering banning scrubbers or adding observers to cruise ships in Canadian waters.

British Columbia Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said On the island On Friday, the federal government is working with industry this season to clean up cruising.

“In reality, the post-pandemic cruise industry with respect to discharges into Canadian coastal waters will be subject to a much stricter regime,” Fleming said.

On the island8:56We spoke with BC’s Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure about the upcoming cruise season

Gregor Craigie spoke with Rob Fleming, BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure and NDP MP for Victoria Swan-Lake, about the impending arrival of the cruise season. 8:56

He said the province is considering installing shore power in Victoria so cruise ships have the ability to plug in and run on “clean, green power” instead of burning bunker fuel. which would reduce emissions.

According to the Greater Victoria Ports Authority, ships account for 96.3% of all greenhouse gas emissions at the city’s cruise terminal.

Our planet is changing. Our journalism too. This story is part Our changing planet, a CBC News initiative to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.